Four generations of women in my family, 100 years and one significant change…
In southern Italy’s turn-of-the-century poverty, and as an eldest girl needed to help at home, my Bisnonna Cesca was denied school and being able to read and write. While Great-Granny Maddalena was so proud to get two or so years of school in this era when educating poorer people was discouraged, especially girls. (Granny said if she’d had a daughter, she’d have named her, Flavia, after her schoolteacher, which perhaps says a lot.)
By the 1930s, both my grandmother’s, Francesca and Lorna, got to high school in Australia but again were persuaded to leave early to work – a few years after, Nanna Francesca was also married at 17, a mother by 19. And while Mum graduated from Teachers’ College in the 1960s, she could only work until she got married and then was required to resign (unlike my father, also a high school teacher). She also didn’t get to finish her university studies as he did.
Perhaps that’s why, when I completed high school and considered taking a break from study, it was Mum who really urged me to take up the place I’d been offered at university. Being young, (I was sixteen, having been put up a grade – not something I’d recommend in hindsight!), at the time I didn’t fully appreciate the opportunity I had. Or then how significant it was to be the first female from either side of my family to graduate from university, to be in an era that I could do so.
In retrospect, it can’t be only by chance that in a century and four generations, women in my family have gone from being unable to read and write to writing books. And so, on today’s 10th anniversary of the UN’s International Day of the Girl, I’d say that it’s so important to keep supporting and encouraging girls to learn – a basic human right. It can truly change lives. Today, 130+ million girls are missing out on going to school. Whether in places like South Sudan, Afghanistan or in migrant and indigenous communities in ‘richer, peaceful’ countries. Financial hardship, early marriage, trauma, cultural barriers and favouring of boys being educated still among the main reasons. Looking back at the generations of women before me, knowing the drive, aptitude and potential they each showed, like so many women of their eras, I consider how much more they might’ve been able to do had they had the chance, and what they may have decided to do in their lives if they’d had the choice. Zoë x